The royal lie in state rituals endures despite the changing times

LONDON (AP) — When Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather, King George V, died 86 years ago, many homes in Britain were…

LONDON (AP) — When Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather, King George V, died 86 years ago, many homes in Great Britain had little or no electricity and much of the population still lived in slums.

British people today do not recognize life in 1936. But despite almost a century of changes, this week’s images of the Queen are almost exact replicas of those of George V.

Both used the same vast medieval Westminster Hall with the coffin resting on a royal purple platform in the middle. A brass cross is at one end of the coffin, the royal standard is suspended above, and tall candlesticks and scarlet and gilt ceremonial guards are carefully arranged around it.

Historians say that the consistent maintenance of such traditions over time is crucial to the preservation of the monarchy’s esteem.

“When you look at the photos, it seems like you can see the difference, doesn’t it?” said historian Tracy Borman, author of The Crown and Scepter: 1,000 Years of Kings and Queens.

“People want to see the crown and the scepter, they like to see these ceremonies played out the same way,” she added. “People derive some comfort and security from this unchanging nature. That seems to be what people appreciate about a monarchy: nothing changes.’

The Queen, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch who ruled for 70 years, was a constant rock of stability in British life before she died on September 8 in Scotland. Even after death, the pomp and pageantry that marks her death evokes elaborate mourning rituals that seem frozen in time.

Before the Queen, five British kings and queens have laid to rest in Westminster Hall, a 900-year-old building that has been the center of British politics and power for centuries. The hall hosted numerous medieval coronation banquets, as well as the trials of Guy Fawkes and Charles I in the 17th century.

The lie-in tradition dates back to the time of the Stuarts, who ruled from 1603 to 1714, when sovereigns lay in state for several days. But Edward VII was the monarch who established the modern tradition of lying in Westminster Hall in 1910. Archive footage showed that, just like today, crowds formed huge queues that flowed through central London to be able to walk past their sovereign’s coffin.

Historian Ed Owens believes that this was a cunning move by Edward VII to strengthen the bond between the crown and its subjects.

“He saw the lie in state as the key moment that would bring him as monarch into close contact with his subjects, the last opportunity for them to say goodbye,” said Owens, author of The Family Firm: The Monarchy, the Media and the British Public, 1932-1953. »

“It was a moment that could have been captured with the new technology of photography and film,” Owens added. “And it was a way of telling the wider country and the wider world that the monarch and the people were in a kind of spiritual unity.”

Other royals at Westminster Hall included King George VI, Elizabeth’s father, in 1952, and Queen Mary, Elizabeth’s grandmother, in 1953. George VI’s wife, Queen Elizabeth, known in later years as the Queen Mother after her daughter became monarch, was the last person to lie in state in Britain. Each time these events gathered tens of thousands of people.

Two former prime ministers — William Gladstone in 1898 and Winston Churchill in 1965 — also lay in state in Westminster Hall. Churchill also had a state funeral, the last in Britain until Monday, when the Queen’s state funeral takes place.

Such spectacles continue to fascinate because they seem to play on an enduring desire for ritual, Borman said.

The monarchy has “a kind of magnetism” because “you look history in the face, it embodies that ancient line that goes back,” she said.

The call is very fitting for the royal family – indeed, she noted that the royal family was “totally committed” to maintaining the unchanging nature of such ceremonies.

“I think it’s very intentional,” Borman said. “I guess the whole point of it is to prevent the people from getting rid of the monarchy.”

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